The Speaker
Sunday, 21 July 2024 – 09:10

Theresa May will lose the Brexit vote, so what happens next?

Theresa May’s self-imposed deadline for a Brexit vote is almost upon us and MP’s are now set to vote on the withdrawal agreement on Tuesday, with the Prime Minister still looking likely to lose; what will the fallout of such a defeat look like.

In recent days Theresa May’s ministers have been employing the bully pulpit to plead for support in Tuesday’s vote, with all the big hitters in Cabinet doing interviews over the importance of the deal.

However, this energy for the deal within the government does not seem to be translating into support in the commons with most still expecting the deal – which was originally meant to be voted on in December – to fall short.

Should this happen, it is likely that Theresa May’s time could be up, with a group of MP’s supposedly waiting in the wings to take up the Brexit mantle.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stated that his party shall vote against the Prime Minister’s deal, with the DUP and many Conservative backbenchers also opposed due to the backstop issue – which Theresa May is still yet to resolve.

The Prime Minister originally pulled a vote on the withdrawal agreement back in December after the DUP and many Conservatives signalled an intent to vote down the deal, rendering it unable to pass.

This led to the Prime Minister seeking changes over the backstop arrangement – changes which were not forthcoming.

The biggest threat to the Prime Minister if her deal fails to clear parliament is the threat of a no-confidence vote being touted by Jeremy Corbyn, which could trigger a general election if successful.

The Labour leader signalled that should the government lose the vote then he will table a motion of no confidence vote as early as Tuesday night, which would likely be debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

He has appealed to other parties for support due to the fact that his party alone do not have the votes to bring down a government.

The Scottish National Party have previously signalled a willingness to support a no-confidence vote in the government, however, despite the DUP not supporting the deal, are likely to vote in favour of Theresa May should there be a no-confidence vote.

This would require some Conservative MP’s to therefore join with Labour in declaring no-confidence in the government, which although unlikely, is not out of the question given the disdain that members such as Jacob Rees-Mogg have shown towards their leader.

This is something that hasn’t happened in nearly 40 years, with James Callaghan’s Labour government being brought down through a no-confidence vote in 1979, ushering in the beginning of the Thatcher government.

If the government should lose the vote there will be 14 days in which another vote can be held to see if the government or any other parliamentary groups can command a majority – if not, a general election shall be held.

Jeremy Corbyn himself has stated that a general election would be his preferred option at this point, allowing a freshly mandated government to take on the Brexit process – which would require a delay in the exit process, however, Corbyn is facing growing pressure within the party to back a second referendum instead.

Should the government lose Tuesday’s vote, but win a no-confidence vote – as is most likely – then the government will likely have to present a plan B to the commons within days.

This is following the controversial vote that Speaker John Bercow sanctioned late last week, ensuring that a no-deal is averted, with the government being required to offer an alternative.

This alternative has not yet been made public by the government (and may not exist at all) but will have to be presented should the government lose.

However, a Commons defeat over the withdrawal agreement will likely make the Prime Ministers position practically untenable, even after winning the confidence of her parliamentary party last month – preventing a coup against her leadership of the party for at least a year.

This leaves the most likely possibility being that the government will be forced to extend the Article 50 deadline, allowing additional time for the negotiation of a deal, or a no deal outcome.

Given the lack of support in either the commons, the business community or the public, no deal is almost out of the question – particularly given the defeat for the government in a string of votes last week, aimed at ensuring against it.

More likely is an extension to the deadline, meaning that the UK and EU will be forced to go back to the negotiating table and agree to a deal that will pass the House of Commons.

Most likely this will remain similar to the deal currently on the table, but have changes regarding the backstop.

Although likely to frustrate the Brexit-supporting public, it is perhaps the most sensible course of action, regardless of what happens in the looming vote and possible no-confidence motion.

An extension to the deadline will allow a suitable deal to be negotiated, minimising the potential economic impact of a no-deal and easing the break with the EU-27.

Although further months, or years, of uncertainty will keep the British markets stagnant, it is likely to be far less harmful than a no-deal, making it favourable for businesses and the general public; preventing tariff turmoil, increased inflation and market fluctuation – which would likely devalue the economy as a whole.

Although likely Theresa May extending winning a confidence vote and extending the deadline is the most sensible outcome, it is increasingly likely that a group of non-government MP’s are set to take over the Brexit process and overturn centuries of parliamentary precedent.

It is reported by the Sunday Times that a group of cross-party MP’s are planning to change the commons rules, allowing for motions proposed by back-benchers to take precedence over government motions, essentially taking power away from the executive and passing it to the legislature.

Although ultimately parliament is the UK’s sovereign governmental body, it will overturn significant precedent and limit the power of the government, having potentially damaging outcomes for the future power of British governments to command the commons and the legislative agenda.

If this were to happen, the Prime Minister will essentially lose control of the Brexit process, which will likely be in the hands of select committee chairs instead, who will subsequently handle the process.

It has been speculated that should this happen (as is becoming increasingly likely) they will seek to extend Article 50 and return to Brussels seeking a new arrangement which they believe will pass the commons.

In this event, it is almost certain that Theresa May will be forced to leave office, potentially paving way for a general election (even if a no-confidence motion fails); certainly, this procedure would change the way that Britain is governed moving forward.

Whichever of these outcomes – or perhaps a different outcome – it is increasingly clear that Brexiteers will not see the country leave the EU on the 29th March.

It is time for all of us to brace ourselves, not for a no-deal, but for potentially many more months of Brexit speculation and political turmoil in the UK.

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